Žižek on Accelerationism

An interesting segment pulled from Žižek’s recent Twitch interview where he is asked about accelerationism. (This was posted on a Zizek-dedicated blogspot and pointed to in private channels by @qdnoktsqfr.)

At first, Žižek rejects the popular understanding of accelerationism — that we should push capitalism to its own demise — rightly highlighting the persistence of this opinion over the last century but realising, like Deleuze & Guattari, that nothing has ever been killed by its contradictions. He calls capitalism “an undead vampire … it returns stronger and stronger.”

But he also rejects any withdrawal away from capitalism’s innately accelerative tendency and the false spiritualism of a call to retreat into a inner state of peace that separates itself from the chaos of the capitalist world.

Instead, he expresses an interest in the concept of capitalist Singularity:

What Elon Musk calls “Neuralink“, or what some other calls Singularity — this idea that we are approaching a point where we will be able to wire our brains to directly communicate beyond language to participate in the same globular consciousness and so on and so on…

I don’t think the right way is to say “Oh, this is horror, the end of humanity” and to step back. Yes, there are great dangers. We don’t know what will emerge out of it, but it is crucial to confront it, to raise serious questions. Does this really mean that we will be kind of like all those ants from early ’50s horror movies where they are no longer humans, they are part of some global awareness, they lose their individuality, and so on and so on.

So, I really think something radically new is emerging; that gradually we humans will literally change our nature. Something — maybe we should even call it “post-humanity” — is emerging. But what will it be? We don’t know.

It’s a thrilling prospect. I don’t think the right way is to step back.

The interviewer then asks him to clarify what he means by this and how it relates to accelerationism, asking whether what he means by this is that accelerationism’s relationship to a communicative capitalistic Singularity is one of fantasy. He responds:

No, no, not a fantasy, because acceleration is, in some sense, a fact. What I’m claiming is that, first, acceleration is … relative. […] Differences are exploding. We are entering a new era where — as Peter Sloterdijk, a German conservative philosopher, emphasised — one third or fourth of humanity lives beneath the cupola in relative safety, others are outside. That’s why we have the problem of refugees — it’s those outside trying to penetrate inside. […]

This is gradually becoming our reality, so when you talk about accelerationism, I would say: “Yes, but let us see what are its concrete social effects.” […] Maybe it’s more and more a serious option that a new hierarchical distinction is emerging which is much stronger than the old class distinction.

Personally, I was really surprised to hear Žižek voice this opinion, although I can’t say I actively keep up with his new work beyond his ever-presence as a major media personality.

Personally, I really like this implicit conflation of the Red Scare horror of ’50s Hollywood insect communism — surely epitomised by 1954’s Them! — and the technological emergence of a new collective subjectivity. This isn’t surprising in and of itself, with Žižek’s early writings on the problem of the “Idea of communism” remaining interesting reading, but I was surprised to see this connected so explicitly to the questions of accelerationism.

Just as surprising is his warning, at the end, of newly virulent social hierarchies, echoing the Landian warnings of a burgeoning “hyper-racism” — which I’ll cautiously bring up saying nothing of his well-known tendency towards generic Twitter racism — that is, the tentatively selective process of late-capitalist outside-in profiling and assimilation leading to the intensification of ethnic differences rather than the one-world delusion of an explicitly Western neoliberal capitalist expansionism.

Capitalism’s innate tendency to let its Outside in does not effectively remove the Outside, and I think Žižek is right to highlight this. We should pay closer attention to what is continuously being rejected and what is being conditioned. Indeed, Žižek’s position even seems somewhat reminiscent of “unconditional accelerationism“: acceleration is a fact, albeit a relative one, and we should pay closer attention to the real-world affects of its selective mechanisms as they appear around the world.

To find ways out is to let the Outside in and if we become better attuned to the dynamics of acceleration as they are presently and energetically transforming the world around us, we might find that communism is closer than we think, so often relegated to a mere horror at the edge of what we know right now.


3 thoughts on “Žižek on Accelerationism

  1. I’m always surprised that people see Zizek as part of the older communist world view… if anything Zizek is a right-wing leftist, one who has pushed a certain Hegelian revisionism into the 21st Century. In many ways Land’s early work converges with such a Zizekian world, although in a different register or level of thought, one that is diametrically opposed to the dialectic. And, yet, Zizek’s dialectical thought is not the standard reading of Hegel, but a diametric opposition to the orthodox Hegelians. Most people never truly get under the hood of either of these thinkers, rather they see them through the standard ideological blinkers of lesser minds.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like his take on Hegel ↑ he is constantly delving into the shifting culture and building a language of investigation towards an awareness. I remember how some on the left pilloried him for his comments on Trump winning the presidency and he was saying this was important as an indicator of how a society arrived at that point, but more importantly what that implied for the future (in my mind he has been right about that) and viz your discussion he continues to be unorthodox, if in fact that is a category, because I find that perjoratives are simply weapons rather than tools, and I find him refreshing. Strange how we like things in straight lines as a species (in general).

    Liked by 1 person

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